At the Covanta Energy-from-Waste facility in Preston, Conn., a 30-
foot wall of garbage towers above 10 tons of tangled fishing gear.
Fishing nets, ropes, lobster traps, and buoys from the fishing port
of Provincetown, Mass., lie on the floor where trash is dumped for
disposal. These massive nets and other gear - some pulled from the
depths of the Atlantic Ocean - may look like trash, but they're
about to become something more useful: electricity.
A giant mechanical crane pulls apart clumps of the fishing gear
along with plastic bags filled with municipal solid waste. Then it
tosses them into one of two continuously burning incinerators to
generate energy that powers an estimated 12,000 Connecticut homes
around the clock.
Turning old fishing gear into an energy resource is part of a
program that was launched in 2008 as a means to help reduce marine
debris in oceans.
Along the Northeast coast, seven ports in Massachusetts, New
Jersey, and Rhode Island have been outfitted with 40-cubic-yard
dumpsters where fishermen can dispose of their used gear free of
Once the dumpsters are full, the gear is transported to a nearby
recycling facility where metals are removed from crab pots and
lobster traps, and nets and ropes are sheared for easier
disposal.The gear is then burned in incinerators that generate
steam, turning turbines that produce electricity. Each ton of
fishing gear is able to generate enough electricity to power one
home for 25 days, estimates Paul Gilman, chief sustainability
officer for Covanta Energy Corp. based in Fairfield, N.J. The
company has 38 facilities worldwide that annually convert 16 million
tons of trash into 8 million megawatt hours of energy and produce 10
billion pounds of steam to sell to industries for use in heating and
The fishing gear project, known as the Fishing for Energy
program, is a partnership among Covanta, the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Fish and Wildlife
Foundation, and Schnitzer Steel, which chops up the nets to make
them more manageable and removes metals from the discarded fishing
equipment and recycles them.
It's an expansion of a similar program, Nets to Energy, which was
launched on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, in 2006 after a series of
NOAA marine debris cleanups revealed large volumes of derelict or
discarded fishing gear at sea. The gear posed a threat to coral
reefs and put endangered monk seals at risk.
Because of the limited landfill space in Hawaii and the magnitude
of gear found, NOAA decided to try to circumvent fishermen's
disposing of old gear at sea by buying a dumpster where they could
dispose of it at no cost. NOAA reached out to Covanta and to
Schnitzer Steel, which agreed to turn the gear into energy at no
It costs Covanta about $300 a ton to transport the fishing gear
to its incinerators, where it is mixed with municipal waste and
burned to generate electricity. A Covanta spokeswoman says the
company probably recoups that expense from selling the electricity
And so an economic burden to fishermen and a threat to the marine
ecosystem has become a low-cost source of energy.
The program is the first of its kind, says Megan Forbes, national
communications coordinator for the marine debris program at NOAA.
Although there is no quantitative data on the total volume of
marine debris dumped into the ocean each year, approximately 52
metric tons of foreign and domestic marine debris washes up along
the shores of the Hawaiian archipelago annually, according to NOAA.
The debris found along the shores of Hawaii are the result of
currents in the north Pacific Ocean, says Ms. Forbes.
Although disposing of fishing equipment at sea is illegal, there
are several reasons why it can end up in the ocean:
* Fishing crews may lose nets or rope because of storms or have
nets washed off boat decks while nets are being repaired at sea. …